“You must wear western formals on your first day,” said the HR executive while handing me the appointment letter.
“Can I wear Indian formals? It is part of the dress code as per company policy.”
“You can, but not on the first day. We want a proper, formal look for the first day.”
I had just moved to a new city and was afraid that my old trousers did not fit me, thanks to the vacation weight I had put on. I did not have time to go shopping. However, I did have some formal skirts that had not yet betrayed my waist. I asked if I could wear one of them.
Of course, I could, as it was “western” enough. Skirts soon became a regular part of my wardrobe.
A few weeks into the job, some guys I barely knew suggested that I join their group for an overnight trip. I was surprised because I had had limited interaction with them.
“It is because of the way you dress!” said a wiser, salwar-kameez clad, older colleague.
Now, 6-7 years into my career and at another job, comfort has become my priority. I wear churidar-kurtas regularly and add a matching bindi. A colleague at my current job asked me where I completed my high school. He was shocked when I said the United States.
“But you don’t look that forward (modern?)!” he said.
Yes, we are judged and we judge too. It is difficult as women in the workforce. If we dress up too much, we are presumably attempting to shift their attention to our looks from our non-existent caliber. If we dress down, we are perceived as incapable of being presentable.
Most organizations have a formal dress code. Many others do not. If we belong to the former category, we have to manage our individual style in conformity with the organization’s policies. If the organization does not mandate a dress code, we still have to exercise our judgment as to what is acceptable in an official environment, irrespective of the freedom.
Personally, I like to dress up well and put on make-up for work. It makes me feel good. But should it work for me or backfire?
In an ideal world, it should be completely irrelevant. My clothes don’t define me. My ideas, my hard work and sincerity do.
Don’t limit me to my bindi. It is just an ornament. Don’t be fooled by my blazer. It is just an attire.
Written by Tanvi Sinha